Israel welcomes US vote against boycott movement

Israel welcomes US congressional resolution opposing Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel

JERUSALEM -- Israel on Wednesday welcomed a U.S. congressional resolution opposing the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel, while Palestinians said the decision was a blow to human rights and free speech.

The House of Representatives passed the resolution by a 398-17 margin on Tuesday, rejecting the boycott movement and its efforts to target U.S. companies that do business with Israel.

The BDS movement promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israeli institutions and businesses in what it says is a nonviolent campaign against Israeli abuses against Palestinians. Israel says the campaign masks a deeper goal of delegitimizing and even destroying the country.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who leads Israel's efforts against BDS, called the resolution an "important achievement" and a powerful show of bipartisan support for Israel.

"We will work to implement this decision and turn it into practical policy against the efforts of the boycott campaign," he said.

The BDS movement said the resolution is "based on lies and aims to demonize powerful resistance to Israel's military occupation and apartheid."

The boycott movement's economic impact on Israel has been minimal, but it has enjoyed stronger success in the entertainment and academic worlds, gaining significant support on U.S. college campuses.

Israel and its allies, however, have succeeded in promoting legislation in U.S. states and elsewhere against BDS. In May, for instance, German lawmakers passed a resolution that denounced the boycott movement and described its methods as anti-Semitic — a charge that BDS activists vehemently deny.

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott movement, said it has a "zero-tolerance policy" against all formats of discrimination, including anti-Semitism. He said this week's House resolution "reinforces other McCarthyite anti-BDS laws, and will have a chilling effect on free speech."

Critics accuse Israel of making unfair accusations of anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate debate over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, a grassroots group in the West Bank that tries to "raise awareness" and mobilize support for the Palestinians on social media, said the U.S. resolution is "the latest attempt to shut down the space for Palestinians to advocate for their freedom and rights." The group said it is not part of the BDS movement, but defended the right to call for boycotts.

"By restricting the right to boycott as a form of protest, it aims to delegitimize calls for justice and accountability on Israel," it said.

For over a year, Israel has been working to expel the local director of the international group Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, accusing him of promoting boycotts.

The group says that neither it nor Shakir, in his position at Human Rights Watch, has called for a boycott of Israel. It says Shakir, who is a U.S. citizen, is being targeted for the group's opposition to Israel's West Bank settlements and its calls for companies to stop working with the settlements.

The deportation issue had been scheduled to go before Israel's Supreme Court this week, but was postponed on Wednesday until September.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said he hopes Israel will use the delay to "reassess" its position.

"Everybody recognizes that what's really at stake here is the ability to engage in human rights advocacy," he said.

He said countries that have tried to bar Human Rights Watch researchers are a "pretty unsavory group" that includes North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Cuba and Venezuela.

"Does Israel really want to join a club like that?" he said. "I don't think so."


Associated Press writer Nebi Qena contributed to this report.